Last May, learning the strike zone and identifying quality secondary pitches were atop Rowan Wick's priority list as a budding slugger in the Florida State League for the Palm Beach Cardinals.
Some 12 short months later, Wick is learning to command the strike zone and develop secondary offerings to complement his electric heater as a pitcher at the same level.
His development certainly hasn't been linear after shattering the New York Penn-League home run record two years ago to pitching this year. Wick couldn't have been franker in his response to if he ever had thought of pitching.
"No, absolutely not," he said.
In his second position switch, Wick appeared in limited mound action on the backfields for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals last summer. He spent his hours at work in the weight room and watching others throw off the mound. Wick pitched in two games, covering just two innings with the Cardinals lowest US affiliate. He allowed two runs on four hits, walking two and striking out one.
With simplified mechanics, Wick made substantial progress during instructs last fall. The former catcher turned right fielder was clocked at 95 mph with a "tight curve", The Cardinal Nation reported last September. Those improvements paid dividends as the organization pushed him to Palm Beach to open 2016.
So far in his first full season, Wick continues to progress quickly as a pitcher, compiling the Beach Birds' second lowest ERA (1.31 over 20 2/3 innings) in a minimum of 15 innings pitched and minimizing the opposition to an impressive 1.03 WHIP, a team-leading mark. The hard-throwing righty has posted a 32-to-6 strikeout to walk ratio and is starting to pitch in more high-leverage situations for Palm Beach with four saves to show for it.
"He has completely bought into the fact that this is the best move for his career," Palm Beach manager Oliver Marmol told The Cardinal Nation in May. "As an organization, we are excited about it. It was a great move. He was a hitter here last year, and he is already back at this level as a pitcher.
"He has been developed very well. Nemo (Palm Beach pitching coach Randy Niemann) and (minor league pitching coordinator) Tim Leveque have done a very nice job with him. We all know and are excited about his fastball. He can run it up to mid-to-high 90s, but we are working on his off-speed pitches and making sure he is comfortable using them in games."
Extremely conscious of the move to pitching, Wick is following the same pathway as former Cardinals position players Jason Motte and Sam Tuivailala in converting to the mound. Like those pitchers, Wick projects to be a back-end reliever with a plus fastball that can reach the upper 90s.
In the exclusive interview below, Wick talks about his reaction to the move to pitching, outlines his progress this season, his offerings, and goals for 2016.
Derek Shore: Going back to last May, when you were told you would be converted to the mound. What was running through your mind?
Rowan Wick: "I wasn't really ready to make the conversion yet. I was like 'I had two good years before that hitting.' I wasn't really ready, but now I'm happy the decision was made."
DS: What was difficult in the early transition stage to pitching?
RW: "I would say making my body move more than it was supposed to and throwing a secondary pitch, for sure.”
DS: How much did your conditioning and workout regimen change?
RW: "Honestly, it's lifting less - less upper body, more lower body. Running a little bit more and learning to know when you can throw more or less depending on the way it feels."
DS: What was your plan of attack over the off-season as a first-time pitcher?
RW: "Coming into the year, I think I started throwing a lot earlier than most other guys did so that I could get more repetitions in.”
DS: All you have done this year is log the second lowest ERA on Palm Beach pitching staff with an excellent 32 to six strikeout to walk ratio in 20 2/3 innings. How do you feel you have progressed through the first quarter of the season?
RW: "I'm just letting my fastball work for me. I can throw it pretty hard, so just letting that doing the thing. When my curveball is on, I feel like I'm pretty dominating. For the most part, I'm just trying to throw strikes, pound early, and induce contact."
DS: To what can you attribute those low walk totals?
RW: "I mean, just throwing strikes. That's the main thing. Everybody has told me from the first day that I became a pitcher is just first pitch strike. So, just throwing strikes."
DS: How does it feel to throw in more important innings with you still be relatively new to pitching?
RW: "It's nice to have the innings that count. When it's a blowout game, you don't really want to be in there. It's nice."
DS: I understand you have been the around mid to high 90s mark this year. Have you been there regularly?
RW: "Yeah, I think I've been pretty consistent up there."
DS: Obviously, you can't rely on just a fastball alone. What pitches have you been working to complement that heater?
RW: "Fastball and Curveball, mostly. I'm working on a change a little bit.”
DS: Do you have any goals for 2016?
RW: "For 2016, I would like to go and play in the Arizona Fall League, if that's going to be a possibility. I'm just hoping to have a good year, work hard, and work on fastball command."
Check out The Cardinal Nation’s Relief Pitcher of the Month announcement for May, in which Wick prevailed over all other relievers in the Cardlnals system.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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